Sunday, April 20, 2014

Why RuPaul's Drag Race Should Eliminate RuPaul...And Itself

TransGriot Note:  If you think trans people outside the borders of the United States aren't paying attention to Drag Race's use of shemale and the t-word and are fine with it, this guest post by Malaysian activist Yuki Choe will blow that perception up.

She's in her words "a lone transsexual advocate and a vocalist, one who performs without drag."


It is now exactly a month since the fateful segment on the reality show Drag Race drew widespread condemnation from the transgender population, and what is deemed as transphobic slurs have since been removed from the show. There are discussions aplenty on where to draw the lines when it comes to terms that are hurtful to transwomen, like “she-male”. Words do count, but not for some who just refuse to understand how much influence words can get, especially specific terms that society usually use to mock transwomen.

Society is too lazy to study Trans 101, and they will eventually pick up information by what they observe along the way. People would look to the idiot box and find RuPaul, a man, in drag. They will reason that transwomen are males who drags like RuPaul. He uses “she-male” like nobody’s business, so there cannot be anything wrong with it. And for RuPaul, all this mash up is no big deal. But, it is. “She-male” is a term that is oft used to shame transwomen into mere sex objects. Such words are meant to demean any womanhood that any transwoman could have. It has all the motivations to humiliate transwomen by reminding them of just how incomplete their lives are with their bodies.

Do we hate him?

We hate RuPaul not because we have internalized transphobia; we hate what the character RuPaul brings to the front. We hate the imagery he represents because it is a caricature in which society determine how to define a transwomen – a she-male, a drag, a shim, a cross-dresser. He turns us into entertainment. He transforms the lives of transwomen into a Howard Stern styled comedy. Many attacked RuPaul for being transphobic, but I really doubt it. He may not even comprehend what the hell the outcry is about simply because he is not really a transgender. He never knew what that means 20 over years ago, and probably never will.

We are called to accept his drag world as a transgender representative, even by GLAAD’s definition of transgender. But he is not. His approach is one of a gay guy who thinks he is doing us a favour. That is the arrogance we so despise. We also cannot stand the fact that he still does not wish to learn from us. He has been ignoring the needs of the transgender population to be addressed with respect for many years.

Talking past each other

Some of the comments I read from the blogs highlighting this controversy, mention about policing of words. That this is transfacism. It is actually far from it. This is about words created to impact a population. Words come with its own definitions. Would a transwomen want to be described with terms bearing male pronouns like “she-male” and “lady-boy”? Perhaps the reason some insist there is nothing wrong with such derogatory words is obvious, is it not? They want to use the word because they feel nothing, but we feel hurt. Words like “tranny“ are widely used to bully children and verbally abuse transsexuals. People who stand by RuPaul just could not relate to that.

The words are meant to harm, which is why one should avoid using it. It has the power to degrade transwomen. It is easy to say we only give strength to the word if we bother about them. It does not work for transwomen. Because lest we forget, we are only less than 1% of the population. These words determine whether we are fit for the next interview to get a room for rent, or be forced back into the closet at churches. To drags and cross-dressers, it is all about dressing part-time or dressing full-time, the mentality is that transwomen are “really” genetically boys, as opposed to the term “genetic girl” when addressing cisgender women.

The point that transgender activists have been trying to say for the past month, is not only confined to that infamous game segment. It has been echoed for years to even the majority straight population – we are not a show, we are not freaks, so stop using media to turn us into jokes. But all this while, RuPaul sees transwomen as only men in women’s clothing, like him. There is not even one moment from him that shows he truly knows what it feels being born in the wrong sex. He parrots the belief that we are all drag queens in the end, and that some of us just decided to go further into hormones then SRS, which is so painfully far from the truth.

RuPaul’s Ignorance

When RuPaul implied about revolution by citing Orwell’s Animal Farm, he is talking about his own “drag queen” revolution that has very little to do with any revolutions that may or may not take place in transwomen’s world, a world that needs protection from the flurry of abuses that are generated by a vastly transphobic generation, and meant to punish transwomen; RuPaul would accidentally be behind another face of his revolution, one that is directly against transwomen.

He does not realize that in defense of words like “she-male”, he shows little understanding of how much damage it would have on trans women, all the while as he removes his makeup and pumped up dresses after shows to be Andre Charles again, with his package of male privileges. For him, it is his art, jumping into womanhood for a while, after being RuPaul for several hours.

But, for tens of thousands of transwomen, it is not an art. It is not an entertainment or a game. Gender Identity Dysphoria is a real condition that affects lives. Transwomen born with it need to transition. Their body mapping must change to accommodate their brain sex, and the intense distress is painful and lifelong. While he sits in his car out of drag, and heads for home after his show, many transwomen would be struggling to hold on to their jobs, and some may even encounter violence. RuPaul can jump out of his drag. Transwomen cannot jump out of their skin and be non-transgender.

RuPaul would expect us to “toughen up” and be “queen”. But we are tough, only not queens. We are simply women, but women who are tough because we have to endure hundreds of hazardous situations he most likely will not encounter even once in his life. And he is not helping. Until this gets into the thick skull of his and every other sympathizers he has, the discussion will not go anywhere.

Visibility breeds stereotypes

And people assume transwomen are “in-drag”. So people would disparage transwomen, and forcefully consider them men. Religious conservatives always lay claim to a “change” of “gay lifestyle” if transwomen want to. And those with lesser knowledge would just brand transwomen as a life choice, and when difficulties arise, sometimes even life-threatening, it is “really” transwomen’s fault because we “choose to drag”.

As transwomen, we wish we could just say to hell with the world. Unfortunately, as a minority at the mercy of a general public who find transwomen useful for tease and ridicule at best (and we do not wish to be reminded what happens at worst), what society think of us does count; it affects our jobs, our insurance, our education, our relationships, everything. And we already have to bear with misrepresentations from religious fundamentalists painting us all as child predators, rapists and fetishists.

Having RuPaul and his show amplifies even more stereotypes of transwomen. We should go even as far as to say he is abetting bullying of transgender children, and encouraging verbal abuse towards transgender people. After all, words are not sticks and stones, right? NOT.

The bigger questions

This is perhaps an appropriate period for us to ponder, what really is transgender now? Should RuPaul be even considered a transgender? While the American Psychological Association includes drag queens in its definition for transgender, many trans people have started to address themselves as transsexual and not transgender, simply because of the disparity in experiences of people born with gender identity dysphoria, and the rest under the transgender umbrella.

Is it not time to correctly address transsexuals as transsexuals and drag queens as drag queens? If we were to say drag queens are transgender, would we not have to include bio queens as well? Or even some animals in drag? Is it not time to consider a more accurate definition of transgender in GLAAD and other trans resources? Should RuPaul even be associated with the “T” still?

Maybe RuPaul is far from transphobic and has the right to use whatever word he wants; but he or any cross-dresser, drag queen, or any men who dresses as women, could and should spare a thought for transwomen afflicted by being born trans.   Unlike them, because any claims of sensitizing society is offset by their own misuse of words that attacks transwomen, the incongruence suffered by transwomen is real.

For transwomen, it is not about dressing, let alone over-the-top with a face buried in tons of makeup and purposely deepening their voices.  We are living our lives.  RuPaul would do well continuing his work, but not at the extent of creating collateral damage on the lives of transwomen everywhere.

Someone should start knocking a hard fact into RuPaul; the difference between a drag queen and a transgender, is that everybody can be a drag queen, even the queen of England. Not everyone can be a transgender, and for those who are unfortunately born transwomen, their lives are problematic enough without being trivialized by RuPaul.

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